Remembering Woodstock, 40 years on | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 15.08.2009
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Culture

Remembering Woodstock, 40 years on

Forty years ago, Dieter Frowein-Lyasso was an ex-army recruit looking for a way to blow off some steam when he heard about a music festival taking place in a town called Woodstock. The rest, as they say, is history.

People at Woodstock

Frowein-Lyasso experienced the hedonism first-hand

It was June,1969, and 24-year-old Cologne native Dieter Frowein-Lyasso had just finished his military service with the German army. American soldiers stationed in the area told him about a big music festival happening in Woodstock, near New York. And he knew immediately - he had to go.

"I remember thinking that I had to get away from all the uniforms, the command structures, the obedience of the military, and that the best way to do that would be to mingle with people from a completely different world," says Frowein.

Dieter Frowein-Lyasso

Frowein was looking for a release following military service

The music lover promptly booked himself on a flight to New York. He kept his plans secret, as he was determined to travel alone. He used the money he got from the army as compensation for completing his military service to pay for the flight.

After arriving in New York, Frowein found accommodation in a youth hostel, where he met a group of young people from the Midwest who were also going to the festival.

"They simply took me along, because they thought it was so unusual that someone had come all the way from Germany," Frowein says.

The only problem was, no one knew the way. And when they finally did arrive in Woodstock, they had a surprise waiting for them.

"Woodstock? Not here!" Frowein remembers. "Instead, it was all taking place in the next town, which was Bethel. The people of Woodstock didn't want to host it after all, so the organizers moved it the whole show to Bethel, which is about three kilometers from Woodstock."

Sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll

Woodstock Festival of Arts and Music at Bethel, New York, August 1969

Frowein-Lyasso says he stood out from the hippies

Frowein couldn't speak much English, and his clothes were also very different from the styles worn by the "hippies" who had descended on the venue. Although he was dressed "normally," he recalls feeling at home in the exotic surroundings.

"I wasn't shy, and so I was able to really enjoy myself," he says. "I wandered around and looked at the people. Everyone said 'hello' or 'hi' and that was it. I just soaked up this incredible atmosphere."

He didn't have much to eat or drink during the festival, and the continuous downpour was a nuisance, because while others had tents and camping equipment with them, Frowein had nothing but his rain slicker. He also didn't know quite what to make of the rampant drug use or the concept of free love.

"Of course some people were running around in the nude, but that didn't really interest me," he says. "I was there to hear the music and to mingle with these people and see how they lived. Sex and drugs were part of it, but that didn't bother me."

One of the main topics of conversation was the moon landing, which happened shortly before Woodstock. But for Frowein, it was of little significance, being "too military" for his liking. All that mattered was being able to experience first-hand the music greats of the day.

"When Janis Joplin died of an overdose not long after the festival, at least I was able to say that I had seen her perform live - that was very important for me," he remembers.

Cherished memories

Dieter Frowein-Lyasso in his art supply shop in Cologne

Frowein-Lyasso treasures the experience of Woodstock

After three days, Frowein hit the road. He hitchhiked back to New York and boarded a plane to Germany. Back home, he saw how Woodstock had become a huge media event, and how the music featured there was being played in all the bars and clubs. He doesn't often tell people that he was there - they wouldn't believe him anyway, he says.

Today, Dieter Frowein manages an art supply shop in Cologne. In 1996, he revisited the festival grounds in Bethel, and took photos of the site. But the real memories of those three crazy days full of music and colorful people in 1969 are firmly anchored in his mind.

"One thing's for certain," he says. "The whole experience sure helped to blow off the stodginess of my time with the German army!"

Author: Matthias Mayr (dc)
Editor: Helen Seeney

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